New Songs to Quarantine To, August 2020

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As we say goodbye to August and look to November, Joe Biden is maintaining his slight lead in the polls. But it should be an 80 point lead. Americans are dying from a virus that our president has ignored, and from racist police officers and vigilantes that our president has encouraged. It makes me wonder, do we really hate each other and ourselves this much? Counterpoint: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion topped the charts this month with a watershed of a song that celebrated the joy that human beings can give to one another. We do love ourselves! Now we just need to apply all that positive energy to canvassing, and donating, and VOTING.

1. Cardi B (feat. Megan Thee Stallion) – “W.A.P.”

Yes, the world’s reaction to “W.A.P.” included some tired old sexist pearl-clutching from conservative politicians and Fox News types. Yes, it’s annoying that two women rapping about their sexual prowess is still a headline-making event. (Men will be rapping about their boners until the mountains crumble into the sea.) But “W.A.P.” absolutely deserved this level of global attention – because it’s an ebullient feat of pop craftsmanship. Over a three-note bass rumble and an instantly iconic loop of the 1992 Frank Ski house track “Whores in this House,” two of the best rappers alive pack as many hilarious innuendos as possible into three minutes – staking their claim as peerless artists, making it clear that there’s no shame in consensual sex, and bringing some much-needed joy to the world.

2. Bully – “Stuck In Your Head”

Alicia Bognanno’s alternative-nation rocker seems to be about never acting on your feelings, and then dealing with the fallout of that inaction. But its blistering hook will get stuck in your head all the same.

3. Marie Davidson – “Renegade Breakdown”

This bilingual robo-funk banger is so catchy, I don’t even mind when it reads me to filth: “Your cheap headlines, your lazy writing / I wonder how it feels for you to sit around all day.”

4. Machine Drum (feat. Freddie Gibbs) – “Kane Train”

What Freddie Gibbs does to this beat is some gold-medal-worthy gymnastics.

5. Orville Peck (feat. Shania Twain) – “Legends Never Die” 

Shania Twain is indeed a legend, and she sounds as charismatic and arena-ready as ever while harmonizing with old-school country’s most compelling modern torchbearer.

6. Mourn – “This Feeling Is Disgusting” 

I never understood music theory, so I can’t tell you what note this Barcelona pop-punk quartet is playing at the apex of this track’s rollicking lead riff. A seventh? A suspended fourth? I was too busy bouncing around my living room to look it up.

7. MF Doom – “Coco Mango (FloFilz Remix)”

A German producer gives a 2012 MF Doom track a summery piano-jazz makeover.

8. Laura Veirs – “Turquoise Walls”

A ballad about being alone in a room, waiting for a text from someone who betrayed you, that somehow feels like hope.

9. Black Thought (feat. Pusha-T, Swizz Beatz & Killer Mike) – “Good Morning” 

This quartet of forty-something rappers might be over the hill, but holy shit are they gaining speed.

10. A.G. Cook – “Today”

Smashing Pumpkins’ deceptively sunny-sounding classic gets a loving electro-pop makeover from the head of the PC Music collective, bringing out its inherent darkness without blunting its shimmer.

New Songs to Quarantine To, May Edition

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Here are my favorite songs released in May 2020, the month we decided a pandemic was over because we just really super wanted it to be. While any news of America’s blind “reopening” scares me to no end, even I, the guy at the grocery store who still wears gloves, can support one thing opening up again – your car window. On your next drive, press play on this mix and crank the volume. Because the only thing that’s contagious about it are the hooks.


1. Pa Salieu – “Betty”

Spacious, dancehall-infused UK hip hop that shows how mesmerizing vocal syncopation can be.

2. Charli XCX – “Enemy” 

Over some full-blown Cyndi Lauper slow-dance synth-pop, Charli XCX realizes the person she loves has the power to destroy her.

3. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist (ft. Rick Ross) – “Scottie Beam”

On the same week George Lloyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs dropped this chillingly appropriate chorus: “The revolution is the genocide / Yeah, my execution might be televised.”

4. Moses Sumney – “Keeps Me Alive”

Here’s a falsetto that can dance in the rafters of a track like an acrobat.

5. Carly Rae Jepsen – “This Love Isn’t Crazy”

CRJ shared a whole album of B sides this month, and per usual, they’re catchier and sweeter and more emotionally authentic than most artists’ A sides.

6. Polo G – “Martin & Gina”

“I get this feeling in my stomach when you next to me.”

7. Kim Petras – “Malibu”

’80s Whitney Houston reverie pop that fills our need for party music like summertime comfort food.

8. Kamaiyah – “Go Crazy”

The last time I heard a rapper be this intoxicatingly melodic over a cookout-ready G-funk beat, Warren G was asking us to mount up.

9. Orville Peck – “No Glory in the West”

Everybody’s favorite Orbison-ian masked country singer is back, with another gorgeous, stripped-down showcase for his honeyed rumble of a voice.

10. Grave Digger – “Lions of the Sea”

Shamelessly catchy retro power metal about Scottish military history from a group of middle-aged German dudes? That’s my kind of escapism.

11. Nick Hakim – “Qadir”

Seven healing minutes of low-lit, slow-building, grief-stricken R&B.

The Top 100 Albums of the 2010s (95-91)

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So much has changed since we kicked off this new column, where I count down my 100 favorite albums from the past 10 years. So many previously mundane things about life – opening doors; buying groceries; finding a hair in your food and eating it anyway – are now terrifying. But take solace, gentle reader. Because lo, there remains at least ONE mundane exercise that is as boring and inconsequential as ever. My friends, I am still making lists of albums and posting them on the Internet, even though literally no one is asking for them. Some things, even now, will never change.

Screen-Shot-2019-03-21-at-08.51.4395. Orville Peck – Pony (2019)

Few things have been romanticized by Americans more than the idea of men traversing the great Western plains, facing danger together, loyal to nothing except one another. It was tempting to say we’d heard it all before, at least until last year, when a Canadian punk singer changed his name, started dressing in bespoke cowboy suits with matching veils, and dropped one of the most enigmatic debut LPs of the decade. “The sun goes down, another dreamless night / You’re right by my side,” croons Orville Peck at the outset of Pony, his silken voice making it clear it’s a love song just like Roy Orbison’s used to do. Though the languages of forlorn ’60s pop, ’70s countrypolitan balladry and ’80s new wave, Peck creates a honky-tonk atmosphere all his own, a world of glitter balls and sawdust, where lovers can slow dance unafraid.

https_images.genius.comf9fec989d8a03a8204fd4ff1189d2dd5.1000x1000x194. Sophie – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (2018)

The dance-pop enigma Sophie made her mark this past decade by turning lifeless hitmaking technology against itself, resulting in outrageously plastic earworms. This astounding trademark sound was still evident on her 2018 studio debutbut this time, her mission was a therapeutic one. She featured her own singing voice for the first time, on a gentle, spectral ballad called “It’s Okay To Cry.” On the hand-clap-driven reverie “Immaterial,” she presented our metaphysical selves as our true selves, resulting in a pure expression of freedom: “Without my legs or my hair / Without my genes or my blood / With no name and with no type of story / Where do I live?” Throw in some of that trademark anti-pop – “Faceshopping” sounds like a Casio being shoved down a garbage disposal – and you’ve got an album unlike any other, that celebrates how each of us is unlike any other.

93.unnamed-1-1569341614-640x640 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (2019)

In the fall of 2018, three years after losing his 15-year-old son to a tragic fall, Nick Cave began a blog called “The Red Hand Files,” in which he answered questions from fans. The first post tackled a question about how his writing process has changed. “I would say that it has shifted fundamentally,” Cave responded. “I have found a way to write beyond the trauma, authentically … I found with some practise the imagination could propel itself beyond the personal into a state of wonder.” The double LP that resulted from these writings, Ghosteen, is just as Cave described – a heartbreaking eulogy that searches for meaning behind the veil of mere biology. The music of Ghosteen supports his solemn voyage, with blankets of vintage synths lending a gorgeous sense of otherworldliness throughout. Also, for the first time in his career, the 62-year-old sings for long stretches in a stunningly clear falsetto, his voice like his soul, reaching ever higher.

b266198ecaf03cafb955bee91d331fa75e2398ad92. Esperanza Spaulding – 12 Little Spells (2018)

“There’s a vibrational current between every fingertip and the unseen,” declares Esperanza Spalding on 12 Little Spells. In the context of the soundscapes she builds around it, this line feels like the truth. Because the artist we could once describe as a “Grammy-winning jazz composer, singer and bassist” had reached heights of sonic expression that transcended genre. Only in this rarefied air could she take on this album’s amorphous challenge – sing a dozen songs about physical reactions to art. Spalding’s arrangements are largely percussionless, freeing up her bass lines to bob and weave around our expectations. Few things stuck in my brain in 2018 like the gentle, swaying funk of “Thang.” “‘Till the Next Full” evokes Hejira-era Joni Mitchell with its swirling, nocturnal acoustics. The title track swells like a old movie score, toeing the edge of dissonance but always choosing beauty.

51GqlPejStL._SY300_91. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (2015)

Jessica Pratt is the kind of enigmatic folksinger who sounds like she was meant to record alone, hurling complicated emotions into the void. Her phrasing is messy, her pronunciation odd – “can” is “keen”; “time” is “tam” – but in the psychedelic malaise of her second LP, these quirks sounded less like affectations and more like the artist’s own personal language. The joys of her guitar playing, however, are clear as day. She interrupts gorgeous finger-picked cascades with staccato minor notes, playing with a narrative thrust that gives the record its bone density. When we hear that scratch of pick on acoustic, we’re trained to expect some diary-entry-type emoting. Pratt plays against that expectation beautifully, leaving just enough breadcrumbs to get us lost.

Check out the full list here!